George Larsen sits tall and quiet in a worn, faded yellow chair in his bedroom at a senior living facility in Petaluma. On the wall directly above him is a painting of his late wife, a former model, smiling and young. On the opposite side of the room hangs another photo of her posing on the cover of Newsweek magazine.
Larsen’s room reveals snapshots of his life from eras past. But photos and newspaper clippings from his time as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard stand out the most.
Larsen served in the military for six years, and was honorably discharged in 1945. Now, at 100 years old, he’s one of the oldest living Coast Guard servicemen.
On Thursday, Larsen reflected on what it was like to see Japanese warplanes circling over Diamond Head State Monument on the island of Oahu, where he was stationed during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“It was scary, of course, but I don’t think I felt the fear until after the attack was over,” said Larsen, who was wearing a black cap with ‘Pearl Harbor Survivor’ emblazoned across the top.
Larsen, who was a radioman, said he is one of only a handful of Pearl Harbor survivors still alive in Sonoma County, and that many of his wartime friends are long gone.
Tracy Brooks, his daughter, said when she was growing up, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor was always a special day in their family.
“My father is really proud of his time in the military,” Brooks said. “But he also went on to do a lot of fantastic things with his life.”
After the military, Larsen worked as a cameraman and lighting manager for KRON-TV in the San Francisco area, where he eventually retired.
“I loved working in that field and the people I got to meet and the places I got to go,” said Larsen, who wrote a book, “On The Edge of War,” which he self-published in 2003.
“I wrote that book so I could always remember those days of service,” he said.
Brooks said her father was known as a prankster, and that in the military he and his friends were always looking for ways to make people laugh.
“The tricks they pulled still make him laugh to this day,” Brooks said.
His greatest prank was while working in the kitchen in the Coast Guard. His friends had complained the tuna he made tasted bad, so the next day he mixed in dog food he bought at a local store, Larsen said.
“They all thought it was the best meal I ever made,” he said, laughing.
He even saved the original dog food label, which he now keeps in a binder full of mementos.
Brooks took Larsen and other family members to the Pearl Harbor memorial on Oahu six years ago to celebrate the anniversary.
“That was an incredible trip,” Larsen said. But, he said, he prefers celebrating the anniversary locally with his friends.
“He has a really great community of people here in Sonoma and Marin (counties) who still celebrate this anniversary,” Brooks said. “We are so thankful for that.”